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The Socioeconomic Effects of Public Sector Information on Digital Networks: Toward a Better Understanding of Different Access and Reuse Policies - Workshop Summary PART FOUR 17. General Discussion of Results from the Breakout Sessions and Possible Next Steps Paul F. Uhlir, Rapporteur The two sessions resulted in quite similar conclusions, although there were also a few differences. Some of the participants in Session A were not fully convinced that a repository of PSI research and methods is justified at this point, for instance, whereas those in Session B discussed what the contents of such a repository should be. The Session A group identified more funding sources for academic research than just the European Commission. The participants in Session B highlighted the fact that PSI research has failed to map the value chain. This is an interesting point and is something that the OECD Working Party on Information Economy has examined in a number of areas in digital content. One issue that came up less than might have been expected was the international dimension of PSI and related data collection. International harmonization or international cooperation are issue areas that academic research might be able to address. When discussing research, one should not consider only academic research because there are other kinds of research commissioned by governments. There can be competitive studies that governments launch in this area, and governments are doing internal studies as well. For instance, general accounting offices or PSI offices could study the procedures and the organization of the administration of PSI. Many governments are doing research on PSI, and governments are very important for academic research. The question is: Where should the funding for academic research studies come from, and who will commission them? One of the great benefits of creating an open digital repository of PSI-related content would be its value for developing countries in which little or even no discussion, implementation, or experience exists in the area of PSI. Such a repository could become a credible resource for these countries to use, and it would provide them the opportunity to learn from the experiences of other countries, thus saving the time and effort needed to initiate such research from the beginning. Another point about repositories is that it is important not to replicate what is already there. The European Commission and the ePSIplus project already have many resources online. A repository could link to those resources and fill in the gaps without replicating them. The participants in Session A also discussed an online journal in connection with the repository. These two activities could be quite helpful and related. A repository is a place to make available materials such as questionnaires, results, or benchmarking of publicly funded PSI studies. It can be more difficult to include results of academic
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The Socioeconomic Effects of Public Sector Information on Digital Networks: Toward a Better Understanding of Different Access and Reuse Policies - Workshop Summary research, however, because research published in proprietary subscription journals may be prohibited from being deposited in publicly accessible repositories. Any repository is compromised if research that needs to be disseminated quickly and broadly cannot be disseminated openly. It is not desirable to disseminate research linked to PSI in a journal that is expensive to readers or that takes a long time from when an article is submitted to the time it is published. These considerations were taken into account when the International Journal of Spatial Data Infrastructure Research was launched. It is an online journal published by the European Commission that is free and is available at http://ijsdir.jrc.ec.europa.eu. It uses the Creative Commons licensing so that authors retain their full rights, and it is listed in the directory of open access journals, which adds to its visibility. As soon as an author submits an article, it is published on the web in a review session. This means that one’s research is disseminated immediately, even before it goes through the peer-review process. Therefore, if an author is looking for an online academic outlet to disseminate research in this area, the International Journal of Spatial Data Infrastructure Research is a potential vehicle, and it is one way in which the European Commission is supporting this type of activity. An online PSI journal could emulate this model. One issue requiring further clarification is that there were somewhat different ideas between breakout groups A and B about what an online repository is. Group B talked about repositories in the context of exchanging information about surveys and questionnaires. The subject came up in the context of surveying businesses. To that end, the Office of Fair Trade reported that it had very good success with surveying PSI holders and businesses who were using PSI information. However, the discussion focused more broadly on exchanging information about surveys, what the reasons are for doing this, and what the big questions are that one is trying to address. Only after reaching consensus on those issues would it make sense to try to work out ways to develop a common survey questionnaire or to add questions to existing surveys. Group A considered this focus on surveys as just one function within an active repository platform. The discussion in that group noted that it is important to emphasize the main goal here: to maximize and optimize the economic and social values of PSI. The repository, the manual, and the research are means to supporting that end. There are countries that are now applying policies that are not in good agreement with the PSI principles being developed by the OECD. Principles are fine, but they may be forgotten or ignored even before they are adopted. They will be useless if they are not taken one step further. In order to maximize the economic and social values of any PSI repository, representatives of the member states or of the organizations involved will need to be consulted by repository managers on how to mobilize all stakeholder communities. The autonomy that these representatives have in deciding their agenda may be limited. Then the repository managers will need to contact businesses, which are crucial in changing mindsets and which may also be able to do part of the work. Success will not happen overnight, but these repositories are the places in which information may be put together and good practices shared.
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The Socioeconomic Effects of Public Sector Information on Digital Networks: Toward a Better Understanding of Different Access and Reuse Policies - Workshop Summary Furthermore, a repository may be the best way to support the micro-entity, the individual, or the very small business. Must they go through a steep learning curve, or is it possible to find ways to help them move forward quickly? It is possible that many who have tried to reuse PSI for business or otherwise have found that it is not so easy and have become disenchanted. In such cases the opportunities are lost, so it is important to give reusers of PSI some help. Enhancing the functionality of an online repository is another possible goal. The idea here would be to create an open knowledge environment in which one could take the OECD principles and organize an interactive discussion relating to each principle about how best to promote it, how to measure it, and what body of work exists that is relevant to it. It would then be possible to create a community around the discussion of those principles in order to diffuse and implement them, whether that discussion goes on among practitioners within the government, the various interest groups in the user community, academics, or others. Such ongoing discussions would help solve the problem of the principles being forgotten or ignored because in these discussions the principles become living recommendations or organizing principles around which the body of knowledge is created. Of course, just talking about the principles frustrates the people at the demand-supply interface even further because they view that as theoretical rather than action oriented. Yet another way to look at the issue is to think of a repository as a means of supporting policy makers. For example, the ePSIplus project has a number of objectives related to policy implementation. The question then arises: How do you disseminate and implement policies through educational practices and professional development to such a huge number of people? Legislation alone does not help. Politicians may give speeches in support of a law, they may even ratify it to show that they support it, but then they may do absolutely nothing afterwards, committing no resources to its implementation. It is therefore necessary to come in below the political level to help implement it. The European Union provides an example of having a law—the PSI Directive that the region is trying to implement—that is not coming along as expected. There is a framework defined in a directive, so why is that not working as well as it is intended? What is the real issue? One can promote the directive or the policies, but there is still inertia to overcome. One of the issues that came up in the Group A discussions is how politicians can be convinced to put resources into these activities, bearing in mind that the politicians are only there for a short interval of time and they are looking for votes. If there are no votes in this, why should politicians decide to put anything into it? One way to convince them is to use multifaceted information channels. Promotion of online discussions on a repository in various forms may be a way to increase political interest in the topic. One workshop participant thought that there is a great deal of frustration about the pace of change of PSI policy and practice in Europe. This frustration is what triggers the interest in alternative data sets in the private sector. Like any market, if access to data is blocked it encourages the creation of new industries and services to circumvent that blockage. This then raises an interesting economic question: Is the pre-existing
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The Socioeconomic Effects of Public Sector Information on Digital Networks: Toward a Better Understanding of Different Access and Reuse Policies - Workshop Summary information asset in the public sector slowly degrading in value? In some cases the substitute private-sector data sets are now being used by the public sector, and the government is not even using its own data. Another workshop participant, however, expressed the view that the situation is not as bad in the EU as the previous participant suggested. Much has occurred in various parts of Europe in recent years. For example, Slovenia, which 20 years ago was under a very different regime, today has a commissioner for information who is looking into public information policy issues, such as data protection, access to information, and reuse of information. Many things are happening in various EU member states, and even though much more ought to happen, it is not accurate to give the impression that the situation with regard to PSI policy and practice is not improving. To take another example, just recently Sweden adopted new PSI legislation, which would not have happened before the EU directive. Indeed, there are several exclusive deals in other countries between government entities and the private sector for providing PSI-related services. How can the PSI practitioners and policy makers in Europe build on these developments? Or, to frame the question differently, how can they build on the successes so that they may get much more economic and social value from PSI based on evidence and solid policies? This is one reason why it is important to focus on what would happen if the government were to withdraw the public sector information that is now competing with the private sector information. Does one look at what extra benefits the PSI adds, or does one look at what the remainder is if you take it away? A good argument to put to politicians is to say, “These are the sort of things that would happen, and these are the sort of costs if you did not have the PSI in question.” One can take that a step further and point out to the public sector organizations that are not making their data available or not making them available at the right price or form that in the long term they are cutting their own throats because in many cases the private sector will find other ways to compete—not always as good, but in some cases better. So public sector bodies ought to take a longer-term view. Given that the technology may have moved on and many of other factors may have changed from when they were first set up to do PSI activities that were considered public tasks at the time, is it still necessary for them to be engaged in these activities? Or would it be better if those functions were left to the private sector, either as some sort of universal service obligation or otherwise? The classic example is the mapping of remote areas, a task in which the private sector has traditionally had little interest. This may be handled in two ways. Either the government can be tasked with doing the mapping, funded by the taxpayer, or the mapping can be privatized, but either way there has to be a universal service obligation. The private-sector entity would not normally be attracted to performing this type of task without a government contract. With regard to the role of the private sector in PSI activities in Europe, it is difficult to prove the value of something that does not yet fully exist. One industry association based in the United Kingdom has been collecting case studies from its members. They tend to be quite small scale, but in some cases a big business has been built on PSI licensing terms that would no longer be permitted in the United Kingdom
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The Socioeconomic Effects of Public Sector Information on Digital Networks: Toward a Better Understanding of Different Access and Reuse Policies - Workshop Summary and in the European Union more generally. To look at the value of such activities and to analyze the benefits of the product being offered is an expensive and complex task. To get such case studies, an investment must be made, and there is not yet a large number of them to show to policy-makers. On the broader question of what the market is going to do, at least some sectors within PSI should be quite dynamic. Already there is very substantial user demand which is expected to grow as devices get more mobile. For instance, as people demand more information of all types, starting with geospatial and weather data, there will be substantial growth, which is why some of the giants in the information sector are entering those markets. The market will bring these PSI-based products and services into the mainstream. The link to user-generated content is yet another factor. The OECD principles and related policy activities regarding PSI need to be communicated as well as possible to these stakeholders. Another consideration in the three areas of follow-up activities that have been identified here—the manual, the repository, and academic or other kinds of research—is how to promote or contribute to these activities and who the important stakeholders are that should be contacted. One suggestion was that the online repository or platform could include a network of important contacts. Perhaps ePSIplus is better placed than OECD to do this in Europe in the near term. Before the ePSIplus project is completed, the European Commission may be willing to issue a solicitation for the funding of a repository at some European research institution that would also include information from outside Europe. The ePSIplus repository could be added into this new repository, thus preserving the data, providing a start-up base, and avoiding wasteful duplication of effort. To be comprehensive and global, this new repository may require an interlinked network of Web sites. The EU Committee on Consumer and Competition Policy is another group that could provide an appropriate forum. There is a genuine need to get more research done in this area and to convince the academics and others doing research that this is an interesting topic to pursue. There are many issues here—societal, information processing, government structures, and others—that need to be examined. It would be good to encourage more research, especially by young people. A recognition or an award scheme could be useful in this regard. There are awards given in the area of e-government in Europe and elsewhere in the world already. Perhaps one with several categories could be established in this area to encourage people to do research on PSI. Many researchers have been working hard and getting good results, but they have not received much recognition for their efforts.
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